A better deal for Australian telco customers | ACMA

A better deal for Australian telco customers

Media Release 50/2012 - 11 July 2012

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) has registered a new Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code, giving long-suffering telco customers materially greater protection on the big telco issues such as bill shock, confusing mobile plans and poor complaints-handling.

The ACMA’s registration of the code came into effect on 1 September, 2012.

‘The industry has developed initiatives in its code to deliver world’s best protections for Australian consumers which should give rise to a much needed, much improved, customer experience,’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman.

‘The code is a unique and ground-breaking document by world standards, bringing together best practice protections at all of the touch points in the telco customer lifecycle,’ Mr Chapman added.

‘What industry players will be delivering to their customers is access to the information, tools and remedies to equip them to demand and drive better service. Telecommunication companies, having established the clearest possible roadmap of what they need to deliver, will now have to perform.’

In 2010 the ACMA signalled to industry that unless it significantly improved its performance, it risked losing the right to develop its own consumer protection rules and would instead face the prospect of direct regulation. At that time, the ACMA took the lead role in resetting the regulatory landscape for consumer protection.

The first critical step in that reset process was the launch of the Reconnecting the Customer public inquiry which went beyond the symptoms and examined the root causes of the industry’s customer service and complaints-handling woes and mandated the material improvements required.

The 2011 Reconnecting the Customer report addressed all of the various customer lifecycle touch points: better advertising practices, more effective information for consumers, tools to avoid bill shock, streamlined complaints-handling, a customer care reporting framework and changes to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) scheme.

‘The code delivers on the first four recommendations, puts a down payment on the fifth, while there is now collective government and TIO action to deliver on the sixth,’ Mr Chapman said.

The ACMA’s inquiry estimated that the annual recurring costs associated with the industry’s unsatisfactory performance under the previous code included $1.5 billion associated with consumers choosing the wrong plan, $108 million for the costs of telephone complaints and $113 million for the costs of writing off bad debts. It is expected the new code will significantly reduce these costs—a massive win for consumers and the Australian economy more generally.

Mr Chapman made the following additional comments:

‘In February, Communications Alliance (CA), the telecommunications industry’s peak body, asked the ACMA to register a revised code. However, it didn’t go far enough in meeting the inquiry’s mandated outcomes and the ACMA reiterated the benchmarks that were necessary.

‘Today, I am in a position to announce that industry stepped up—the code has now met the mark. The ACMA’s evidence-based approach, in this increasingly challenging space of convergence, and its ability to work with its stakeholders has delivered.

‘The code arguably represents a tipping point for the industry in terms of its relationships with its customers. We’ve already started to see industry participants refocusing their resources on their customers ... as they now increasingly compete at the retail level on brand equity and customer care. So the next step in this whole process is the longer term industry response.

‘The ACMA will very closely monitor its progress and will not hesitate to communicate to industry the need for further change, if that need arises. This is an important point as the code will apply to every service provider in Australia. Compliance with the code is no longer an option. The ACMA obviously stands ready to use its powers of investigation and enforcement if participants choose not to comply with these new code obligations (which include an obligation to report their compliance performance to the industry’s new compliance monitoring body, Communications Compliance.)

‘The code comes against the background of the rollout of the NBN and is a good example of forward-looking and evidence-based engagement in a converged world. The ACMA laid out the issues based on evidence and the industry has responded.

‘All stakeholders played their part. The new code was developed by CA (under the leadership of John Stanton), which formed an independently chaired steering group comprising industry and consumer representatives, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network strongly represented their constituency, namely, consumer interests.

‘Finally, the code development process follows long-standing concerns about how telco customers have been treated. The process was consistently strengthened throughout by the ongoing interest and support of Senator Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.’

For more information on the TCP code go to the ACMA's Engage website .

Media contact: Emma Rossi (02) 9334 7719 or 0434 652 063 or media@acma.gov.au.

Last updated: 23 May 2016